Underneath a spring moon and a sellout crowd, baseball returned to Dodger Stadium on Thursday night, and with it came something that has defined the Los Angeles Dodgers for the last decade: winning.
In their first home game of the season, the Dodgers defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 9-3, thanks to a couple players that weren't on the roster during the team's home opener in 2021.
Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner each had two hits and two runs scored, as they helped the Dodgers avoid a late-inning collapse against Cincinnati. Will Smith added the exclamation mark with a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth.
"The offense is there, I think you guys have been able to see that the last few games," said Freeman. "But we’d like to be more consistent over the stretch of a whole game and not just an inning or two."
Thursday's home opener was a day of renewed hope. As fans pushed through the gates at Dodger Stadium, marking the start of spring, and another baseball season at Chavez Ravine, it was also a moment to reset. The world has changed over the last two years thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but baseball can hopefully bring a sense of normalcy and routine, as we all get back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Thursday also brought a day full of firsts. The first game of the 2022 season at Dodger Stadium, the first Opening Day for Freeman and Turner in Dodgers uniforms. And it was also the Dodgers' first game at home without Corey Seager and Kenley Jansen, longtime fixtures of Dodger Stadium Opening Days.
"You can feel the buzz. Players were excited," said Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts about Opening Day at Dodger Stadium.
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Each and every year the Dodgers unveil a new-look team, but after nine consecutive playoff appearances they're considered more like small tweaks than major overhauls. The lineup for the home opener consisted of the usual suspects like Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Will Smith. But they also featured some new faces like Freeman at first base, Turner at shortstop and Hanser Alberto starting at third base for the first time this season.
Just as they did in Denver a week earlier, Walker Buehler led the Dodgers on the mound for another Opening Day start. This time in the team's first game at Dodger Stadium, just as he did in 2021 after the team's 2020 World Series ring ceremony.
"I threw the home opener last year, so this was kinda the second round of it," said Buehler about making his second straight Opening Day start at Dodger Stadium. "We have some of the best fans in all of sports. It was our first game back and we had 53,000 fans. I think if you don't get jitters then something's wrong with you."
Freeman also had a day full of firsts. His first hit with the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium came on the first pitch he saw from Colin Moran in the first inning. His first run scored at the Ravine came two batters later, and his first double and standing ovation came in the bottom of the eighth inning as the sellout crowd of 52,995 stood and chanted his name….but we'll get back to that later.
The Dodgers struck first with five straight singles that gave them an early 3-0 lead. Turner had the second single, which extended his MLB-best hitting streak to 25 games dating back to last season.
Buehler pitched five shutout innings before running into trouble in the start of the sixth. After two easy outs, Buehler walked Tyler Stephenson on five pitches, prompting a mound visit by pitching coach Mark Prior. Seven pitches later, Buehler left a fastball up in the zone that was crushed by Aristides Aquino into the seats in left-center to cut the lead to one.
Buehler finished with two runs on five hits with three walks and four strikeouts in a no-decision.
"I made a pretty good pitch with the fastball up, but I wish I would have thrown it a little bit harder," said Buehler of the homer. "Throughout the game I kinda found my rhythm and lost it. Maybe I tried to do a little too much, it is what it is, and I think we'll settle back in."
David Price came out of the pen in relief of Buehler and surrendered the game-tying homer to Brandon Drury an inning later.
But Freeman and Turner would bail the Dodgers out in the bottom of the eighth inning. Freeman led off with a ground-rule double to left-center and as he stood on second base during a pitching change, the sellout crowd—which consisted of plenty of Freeman's friends and family—all began to chant his name, "Freddie! Freddie Freddie!" they shrieked until he finally acknowledged them with a wave and a tip of his cap.
"That's about as cool as it gets right there. That was special," said Freeman of the chants. "I got tingles. I got the chills going through my body. It's hard to really put into words...that's as special as it gets."
Four pitches later, Freeman would score the go-ahead run on an RBI single by Turner. By the time Smith's three-run homer cleared the centerfield fence, the Dodgers had scored four runs in the inning, breaking the game open.
There is a lot of baseball still left to play, 156 more games to be exact, another 80 at Dodger Stadium, and hopefully a dozen more in October. But through the first week of the season, the Dodgers are right back where they belong atop the standings in the NL West.